Rihanna shows the way

ASIAN designers have little trouble appealing to wealthy fashionistas in the West. Last year, a long yellow cape dress worn by Rihanna at the Met Gala made a celebrity of Guo Pei, a Chinese designer. Winning over the mainstream shopper is another story. In 2005 Uniqlo, a Japanese brand with a genius for selling multicoloured basics, entered the American market with three stores in suburban shopping malls in New Jersey, only to close them within two years. It has yet to turn a profit in America with its other stores; between this January and June it closed five outlets.

Now Muji, another Japanese clothing and lifestyle giant, is expanding. It has ventured into New Jersey with a big new store in a glitzy mall. The difficult thing is reaching local people and selling them ordinary, daily essentials, says Asako Shimazaki, the head of operations in America. Customers queued for the store’s grand opening last month. But their aim, they said, is to be part of a cool, niche group of Muji fans: not exactly what the brand had in mind.

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